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New England running back Damien Harris, center, has 892 yards rushing this season and could become the team’s first 1,000-yard rusher since LeGarrette Blount in 2016. Charles Krupa/Associated Press

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — When the NFL regular season draws to a close on Sunday night, the New England Patriots could end up in a number of positions heading into the AFC playoffs.

Maybe second. Or third. Or even fourth, fifth, sixth or seventh.

So many seeding scenarios – some far more plausible than others – are on the table for the Patriots (10-6) heading into their regular-season finale on the road Sunday afternoon against the Miami Dolphins (8-8).

A loss to the Dolphins means the Patriots will open the playoffs seeded somewhere between No. 5 and No. 7 and on the road, no matter what else happens around the AFC on Sunday. A win opens tons of doors for the Patriots, who enter Week 18 as the No. 5 team. In order to improve its position, New England will need the improbable – a loss by the Buffalo Bills to the New York Jets.

For now, it’s on to Miami.

“Miami is a good football team and we know them well, they know us well,” Patriots Coach Bill Belichick said. “We haven’t played each other all year, but overall, there’s a lot of familiarity between the two teams. It’ll be a good opportunity for us to try and hone in on our fundamentals, our execution and our communication. Worry about next week next week.”

For the Dolphins, the prizes at stake Sunday include finishing with a second consecutive winning record and sweeping the Patriots; Miami prevailed at New England back in Week 1. For Dolphins Coach Brian Flores, there’s also a bit of history awaiting.

There are 120 coaches who have gone up against Belichick in his 22 seasons with the Patriots. Only four – Dave Wannstedt, Mike Shanahan, Tom Coughlin and Tony Dungy – have beaten Belichick three consecutive times.

Flores, a former Patriots assistant who spent 15 years spanning three Super Bowl wins under Belichick, can join that group on Sunday.

“With Bill, his consistency is something maybe people don’t talk about,” said Flores, who is wrapping up his third season as Dolphins coach. “You hear the same message really on a daily basis. It’s been a while since I’ve been out of there now. I’ve certainly grown more of an appreciation for my time there and the things I’ve learned. A lot of those things, I try to apply here.”

No team – regardless of who’s coaching – has had better than a three-game winning streak against New England in Belichick’s 22 seasons there, either. Miami won its first three meetings against the Belichick-led Patriots, and Denver, Indianapolis, the New York Giants and the New York Jets have also had three-game winning streaks against New England in that span.

A few clubs tried to join that list this season. They all failed in what basically became a Belichick revenge tour. Buffalo, Carolina, Houston and Tennessee all had won back-to-back games against New England entering matchups this season; the Patriots went 4-0 in those ensuing contests by a combined score of 99-51.

The Dolphins now get their shot, against a New England team that has kept finding ways to get better.

“I tried to just learn along the way,” Patriots quarterback Mac Jones said. “Each week, starting with Week 1, you try things and try to adjust them to find out what works.”

NOTES: The Patriots said Saturday that veteran linebacker Dont’a Hightower has been ruled out against Miami after originally being ruled questionable with a knee injury. Safety Kyle Dugger was already ruled out on Friday with a hand injury. … Patriots RB Damien Harris leads the Patriots with five 100-yard games, 892 total yards rushing and 14 touchdowns. It puts him in striking distance of becoming New England’s first 1,000-yard rusher since LeGarrette Blount in 2016. … Dolphins WR Jaylen Waddle has 988 yards receiving entering Sunday, 12 shy of the milestone 1,000-yard mark. He is also two catches shy of tying Anquan Boldin’s NFL rookie reception record set in 2003. … Flores could become the first former Patriots assistant to beat his old boss four times, and just the seventh coach to beat the Patriots at least four times in the Belichick era.


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